Panel optimistic there's a model acceptable to auds

The arrival of digital cinema is just a matter of time and money, film biz toppers agreed Wednesday — the only question is how much time and money it will take.

“The biggest single sticking issue is, without question, the business model and its acceptance, but I am optimistic it will be cracked,” U.K. Film Council exhib/distribution head Peter Buckingham told the crowd gathered to hear developments in the quest for a rollout of digital cinema.

Joining Buckingham on the panel were Joost Bert, CEO of Belgium-based exhib Kinepolis Group; Jogchem’s Theaters managing director and Union Internationale des Cinemas prexy Jan van Dommelen; and Digital Cinema Initiatives CEO Chuck Goldwater.

Sesh at the Variety Conference Series was moderated by Digital Cinema Deluxe VP Steve Bergman.

Goldwater opened the proceedings with a prepared statement on progress and goals of DCI, the joint venture of the seven major studios. DCI was created two years ago to come up with a plan for implementation of digital cinema that Hollywood and the rest of the world can agree on.

The goal, he says, is to make sure the image of digital movies is better than 35mm, to enhance competitiveness for the industry and to maintain the primacy of the moviegoing experience.

More specifically, the idea is to create a standard format and a solid way to approach the sticky question of who pays and how much?

“By working together, we can achieve long-term benefits for the good of the industry and not just short-term gains for one or the other,” the exhibition vet said.

“What we are trying to do is achieve solutions that are workable in the U.S. and around the world. I think everyone recognizes it will take time and a financial commitment to go from 35mm to digital,” Goldwater said.

How much time? Van Dommelen is looking to the U.S. to lead the way and expects a rollout to begin in 2007, but cautions it will probably take about 10 years — provided there is just one standard agreed upon worldwide.

Bert said he has 350 screens and expects them all to be digitized in five years, even if he has to go his own way to do it.

“I won’t wait for (others). We will do it and it will be a big hit,” he stated. “Let the law of the jungle do its thing and we will see.”

Others weren’t quite as bold, but Buckingham said the U.K. is attempting to kickstart the process with approximately 250 screens (out of 3,500) in the specialized sector.

He encouraged the creation of contracts that guarantee cinemas will play, market and promote digital cinema.

Echoing many in Cannes this week, Goldwater said rights management and combating piracy must be key parts of the digital transformation. He also said, with the talents of Oscar-nominated cinematographers, DCI has created a 12-minute mini-movie for testing purposes of the various digital possibilities.

Van Dommelen got down to the basics of digital cinema’s future. “We don’t have the feeling the audience asks if it’s digital or analog.

“As Shakespeare said, ‘The play’s the thing,’ ” he mused. “We hope digital can help increase attendance, but the audience will decide, not us.”

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